Managing Toddler Behaviour

Messages from Chinuch Research Center

Dear caring parent of a toddler, we understand the challenges you may face when managing your child’s behavior, especially during those tantrums. At the Chinuch Resource Center, we are here to provide valuable insights and tips on addressing and changing your child’s tantrums effectively. Our goal is to help you nurture skills that will benefit your child and create a calmer and healthier environment for your entire family. By incorporating positive reframing techniques and establishing rules with a firm yet loving approach, you can cultivate a harmonious and positive atmosphere at home. Stay tuned as we guide you through this journey of parenting with care and guidance.

Managing Toddler Behaviour

Managing Toddler Behaviour
The toddler years can be some of the most challenging ones for any parent, and likely for the child too. These toddler years are famous for their tantrums and are sometimes called the ‘terrible twos.’ However, with some important knowledge, hard work, and with siyata dishmaya, these years can also be very rewarding.
What are some key tools for managing toddler behaviour and, at the same time, retaining your parental sanity? Number one, and most important, is remaining calm. Remember that your child is MUCH MORE than just his behaviour. He is trying to figure out the world. Isn’t that a difficult task for anyone, let alone a toddler?

Looking Behind the Behaviour
Many parenting books will tell you how to manage certain behaviours. Our page on “Understanding Toddlers and Young Children” makes clear that these management tools can take you only so far. If behaviours have to change, then first, as a parent, you have to understand why these behaviours are happening. Often, this means examining your own behaviour, and the hashkafa and views that support it. This is not a simple exercise to do, but it is vital in order to make changes. Yes, it takes a lot of kochos and patience.
The principle point is that your attitudes affect your own thoughts and feelings, which in turn drive your behaviour. And then your own behaviour drives your child’s behaviour. It’s almost like one big circle.

Positive Reframing
Are you stuck where all you can see of your child is the poor behaviour? Well, one of the most helpful things that you can do is called positive reframing. This page suggests some simple techniques that you can use to help manage problem behaviours, both for you and your child.

This as a three-step process:
1) Make a list of all the good things that your child does and all the negative behaviours that you see. At the same time, make the same type of list about you as a parent. If possible, the Tatty and Mommy should each make these lists separately, and then compare and contrast them.
2) Next, make a list of five really good things about your child and then five really good things about you as a parent. Think of it in terms of why you and your child are boruch Hashem lucky to have each other. This is the positive reframing, where you shift your thinking towards the good.
3) Finally, every time your child does something on your ‘good behaviour’ list, praise him enthusiastically. It does not matter how small that ‘something’ is, praise him with emesdik pride. This positively reinforces the good behaviour in your own mind and in your child’s mind as well. At the same time, try to ignore the poor behaviour.
Our page on “Positive Thinking” explains these principles in greater detail.

The ‘Two Strikes and You’re Out’ Rule
This approach is very simple and surprisingly effective for both you and your child. It prevents you from becoming frustrated because you are being ignored, and it prevents the child from ignoring you because there is no consequence in doing so.
How does this work?
When you ask your child to do something or to stop doing something, ask once and ask nicely: “Please stop doing that.” Then a second time more firmly, with consequences: “Stop doing that now, or you will go to your room.” It is important to make sure that you have your child’s attention when you ask, so get down to their level and make eye contact.
If the child continues to ignore you, deliver the consequence.
With younger children, it works best if the consequence is immediate. Older children will understand more easily.
Suitable consequences for toddlers include: time out, sitting on the ‘special step’, or on a ‘special chair,’ or going to their bedroom. The time should be no more than a few minutes.
You can also take away something valued for a few minutes, such as a favourite toy.
Then there is placing the ‘sad face’ on a sticker chart. This is often very effective.

Doing Nice Things
Regardless of your child’s behaviour, it is important that you spend time together doing nice things.
Try to take at least half an hour each day to play with your child in an activity that they choose. Engage with their play and comment on it positively. Don’t forget to give your child lots of hugs and cuddles to reinforce the praise.
Remember: You cannot love a child too much, nor can you give them too many cuddles. Children who are frequently hugged know that they are loved, and parents who hug their children often remember what parenting is really about. All this reinforces the bond between children and parents.

Analysing Poor Behaviour
The first important step to managing poor behaviour is to look at when it happens and what are the triggers.
Keep a Behaviour Diary
What does that mean?
Keep a diary of your child’s tantrums. For example: What caused the behaviour; what was the behaviour; how did you respond; and what was the outcome. Note the time and place of each occurrence.
Keep the diary for a week and see if you can see any patterns. For example, you may notice that all the poor behaviour happens at certain times of day, maybe when you and your child are tired; or you may see that there are certain circumstances that cause poor behaviour; or maybe you are showing certain responses that may not be helpful.

Keep a Praise Diary
Note when you praise your child and when your behaviour has a positive effect on your child. Again, look for patterns in behavior and response.
You may find that keeping a diary raises your awareness and helps you make small changes that, in turn, make quite a big difference in your child’s behavior. But even if that doesn’t occur, the diary experience will help you identify patterns and reflect on your own responses.
There is more about this kind of exercise on the page of “Reflective Practice.”

Sticker Charts
Sticker charts not only train children, they also help you, the parent, notice and reward good behaviour.
Sticker charts are a first step towards rewarding the good and ignoring the bad. They should focus on the behavior that you want to see, including that which you already see. For example:
cleaning teeth twice a day
washing hands after going to the toilet
putting a toy away after playing with it
saying ‘thank you’ when receiving something
The golden rule of sticker charts is: Keep it simple!
It is probably best to use short periods of time, say four periods in a day or morning and afternoon. If you have seen the desired behaviour during that period, then the child gets a smiley face or sticker. If not, then no sticker. If you see the complete opposite of the behaviour you want, then give the ‘two strikes’ warning. If the poor behaviour continues, take the child gently but firmly with you to the sticker chart and draw a sad face.
At the end of the day or week, if the child has at least 75% smiley faces or stickers, then they get a reward.
Keep the rewards small – an extra story at bedtime, a trip to the library to choose a new book, or some extra play time. Remember, larger rewards can become expensive and also give children the impression that good behaviour will buy presents.

Making Changes
First, try to ignore the bad behaviour and tantrums, and focus on praising the good.
Second, don’t bear grudges. Deal with the bad behaviour immediately and move on.
Children, especially small children, don’t really remember things very well. They find it hard enough to associate cause and effect when it is immediate, never mind some hours later. It is really important to deal with bad behaviour right away and then move on.
Later, when your child has been behaving beautifully, you need to praise them and cuddle them for that good behavior. You do not need to worry that this will make them think they can get away with bad behavior. They will NOT associate the two episodes but only realize how much nicer it is to be praised for good behaviour.
The Golden Rule
To get rid of the behavior you do not want, do not reinforce it by giving it any attention.
Reinforce only the behavior that you want to see again through praise and suitable rewards.

Stay Calm
The most important thing to remember is that your behavior affects your child’s behavior.
Therefore, the best way to manage their behavior is to stay calm. If you can stay calm and relaxed, you will be better able to manage yourself and your child.
For more about this, see our page on “Self-Control.”
Although it can be extremely difficult to stay calm when a toddler behaves inappropriately, doing so will be most rewarding both immediately and over time.